New tailgate rules threaten century-old social ritual

USA Today called me last week. The reporter wanted to talk about our new tailgate rules.

The mass media has not paid any great attention to The Game in years, but now, as alcohol on college campuses “becomes” an issue (as if no one drank beer at college before 2002), suddenly Yale is in the hot seat. As I told the reporter, the main problem with Yale’s new regulations is not that they don’t enhance student safety, or that they are arbitrary and capricious. The main problem is that by ending tailgates early, the administration is undermining what has become arguably the biggest draw of The Game: its social atmosphere.

The new regulations went over fairly smoothly at the Brown tailgate last week, but that is because people who attend the Brown game are there to watch football. Tailgates might be involved, but the point is the football game. The fans will get into the stadium eventually. There are many people, myself included, who attend The Game for the same reason we attend any other game — we love Yale football and enjoy watching sports. But the real draw of The Game for many fans is not the football game itself, but the reunion-like atmosphere that surrounds the whole weekend.

That Nov. 19 is a big reunion is obvious in everything we do the night before. Some people meet up with old friends for dinner at Samurai or Mamoun’s or Bentara or even The Educated Burgher. Fraternities have alumni parties. Some students go to Mory’s with Mom and Dad or with friends, and a cappella and improv groups have “Game Weekend” shows. People aren’t generally talking about plays or running backs the night before The Game — they’re having fun and hanging out with friends.

On the Saturday of Yale’s most important “reunion weekend,” many students and alumni don’t even make it into the Yale Bowl. Instead, they chill outside, drinking beer and eating burgers and talking with people they have not seen since the last time Yale played Harvard. Some Yalies will choose to go to the rugby game instead of the football game, and some will watch nothing but the fourth quarter. Whatever their choices, everyone has more than just football on their minds.

Don’t get me wrong — I love The Game itself. But what makes the whole experience so great is that it’s a big party. What is The Game without the tailgate, without the alumni, without the huge crowds? Sure, prohibiting people from standing on top of U-hauls makes sense. But prematurely ending what is one of the few opportunities current Yalies have to interact with graduates, especially recent graduates, does not.

There’s not one Yalie who will be around this weekend who isn’t planning to meet up with a former teammate or freshman counselor or classmate. It’s not the fact that we won’t be able to drink after halftime that bothers me, it’s that we won’t be able to step out for a few minutes to talk with old friends or grab a bratwurst. The Game is all about going to The Game with your friends; It’s an intrinsically social event. Regulations like capping pre-Game parties at 20 people and cutting off tailgates early miss the point. This one is supposed to be an event, not just another football game.

The Game is also unique because it brings together students and alumni from the two schools. The Yale-Harvard matchup on the gridiron is just another manifestation of the general Yale-Harvard rivalry, even though it may be the most important part of it. We steal each other’s professors. We mock each other’s presidents. We compete for the same prospective students. But as much as the weekend is about competition, it’s also about seeing old friends from Harvard and even making new ones. The limits on pre-Game parties and early ends to tailgates will affect that, too.

I have one suggestion for those of you who are here this weekend. You will have your whole life to drink, so make sure you get your socializing in. Because once halftime rolls around, the cops will be telling you to pack it up.

This is Yale, after all. We don’t believe in friendship or networking here.

But seriously, don’t worry too much. These ridiculous new rules won’t last, because alumni who realize how much the new rules threaten the nature of The Game will speak up. The administration has to realize that, like beer pong, a Game tailgate is not just about drinking. It’s about meeting people, catching up with old buddies and having fun. Students and alumni aren’t missing the football game because they’re drunk. If they don’t make it out to The Game, it’s because tailgating is so damn fun.



Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and a former Sports Editor for the News.

Comments